- Rachel Stanley
One of the most frustrating things to hear when you’re suffering from depression is “it will get better”. How do you know?! Why should I trust you?! Why aren't things good now?! This is why when I was asked to write a ‘compassionate letter’ to myself during CBT sessions late last year, I was reluctant. When you are your own worst enemy, it is really tough to hear other people tell you you’re not so bad, but trying to convince yourself is even worse.
Recently I came across some photos of me from about a year ago. I still had my braces on, and it made me realise how much can change in a year. I decided to try again with the idea of writing a letter - but not a compassionate one. Instead, it would be a reflective one, looking back at the past year. I wouldn't have to tell myself about all the things I can do, because I would be reflecting on what I had actually done. I wouldn't need to talk myself up and feel like I was lying to myself, because I would be looking at actual evidence from my own life.
Writing a reflective letter encouraged me to look back at the good and the bad from a new perspective. It also offered a feeling of hope for this coming year and made me think about how much I’ve got through without giving myself any credit. Because this letter reflects on my own experiences, it’s easier - I’m not telling myself how great I am, I’m showing myself how my life has changed and how I’ve grown.
Ultimately, I realised how much I’ve overcome without even realising. It’s not easy to give yourself a pat on the back; sometimes praising yourself seems forced and wrong. But writing this letter did feel different. It felt rewarding and I’d really encourage you to give it a go. Respect your experiences and include whatever you want. Try and use a positive outlook but don’t brush over the negatives - all of your thoughts and feelings are valid, and no one else has to see it anyway.
If you do decide to write a reflective letter of your own, good luck, and show me if you’d like! Here are a couple of extracts from mine:-
'It’s going to be okay. School will continue to be awful, but you'll get through it. You’ll have to redo nine months of coursework because it’ll be revealed that teacher you had a funny feeling about will have taught you everything wrong. It’s okay. You’ll take time off school and you’ll end up with an A*. You won’t go to leavers’ prom, and over the summer you’ll begin to forget the faces of the classmates that did you wrong, and it’ll feel good. You’ll start seeing a different therapist soon, one with the NHS in a nice building with a red door. Yasmin is very nice; you’ll like her. She’ll make you go onto the high street without any make up on, so look forward to that. You’ll see her all summer, right up until you turn 18. When you leave she’ll give you a big pack of worksheets to help you, because she cares.'
'You’ll go to university in September - you’ll get your first choice for halls of residence. You’ll be in a flat with seven other people and two of these will become your best friends. They’ll teach you so many things about being a better person, and sometimes their kindness will frustrate you. You’ll learn from them to appreciate everything, to always look out the window on a train, to keep a notebook full of thoughts and scribbles, and to take lots and lots of photos. You’ll rediscover photography. Yes, it sounds ridiculous, because A-level photography has been torture. But you’ll finally learn how to use your film camera on manual, and your photos will be good. You’ll be proud of them. You’ll feel so completely done with being scrutinised and marked, that your photographs will be the only thing in your life where you don't care what other people think. That is freedom.’
‘You’ll do just fine at university; your marks for the first term will average at a 2:1. It won’t be a fun term. You’ll be scrambling about, worrying about if you’re doing this ‘living’ thing right’, and you’ll go to your tutor crying at one point. The politics module will make you a very sad person. You’ll have money troubles, but you’ll find some inventive ways to save. You’ll make best friends with Poundland and Iceland and you’ll buy baby wipes instead of face wipes and men’s shaving cream rather than women’s shaving cream. It’ll take you far too long to realise that Pizza Hut’s gluten free pizza is the best thing in the whole world, and you’ll somehow survive the whole of term one using only paper plates. You’ll make the most of London, and you’ll absolutely love it. You’ll be going out every weekend - Friday and Saturday - and you’ll be at the pub or with friends in the week, too. There are a few things you’ll experience that will feel like the worst thing in the world, but then you’ll get to a point where you realise that in the end it all blurs and sort of mushes together and shapes you as a person.’